First Things First (Haggai 1:2-11)
Once I prepared last week’s sermon, I told Tammy that we needed to give more to the Lord’s work. And she was mean to me; she said, “Honey, if we’re going to start giving more, you have to stop buying so much stuff for your bicycle.”
It’s true—I spend a fair amount of money on cycling. Tammy calls it my “expensive hobby.” I just bought a used bicycle—a Trek, a step up from my other one. Then, as I’m riding it from the shop in Seabrook, the tires blew; RJ picked me up and we went to Trek in Clear Lake for new tires. Before I picked up the bike, I bought some new clipless pedals.
Before buying the bike, I bought two neat cycling kits. Just before Christmas, I bought a Wahoo smart trainer. And there’s my monthly membership to Strava to keep track of my distances. No, cycling ain’t cheap.
I’m probably not the only one here who spends money on a hobby. Maybe you spend a fair amount on traveling. Maybe you enjoy antiques, and you’re always looking for another find. Maybe some of you sisters enjoy quilting, and you make sure you have just the right fabric. Maybe you enjoy gardening and spend money on the tools and equipment you need to do it right. Maybe you have a collection of some sort—coins or stamps or baseball cards or thimbles or Depression glass—and you’re always looking for your latest find. Maybe you enjoy going to the movies or out to eat.
The Israelites certainly enjoyed spending money on themselves. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem—including the temple—and took the Jews captive because of their unfaithfulness. Seventy years later, King Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to go home. The next year, the first Israelites to return to Jerusalem rebuilt the brazen altar, resumed sacrifices, celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, and laid the foundation for a rebuilt temple. However, the Jews quit rebuilding the temple when they faced opposition.
The Jews stopped building the temple, but they continued to enjoy life. In fact, they constructed really nice houses for themselves. And, for 16 years, the people were living in luxury and ignoring the temple. That is, until Haggai came along and gave them an important message: “God’s pleasures come before your pleasures.”
This is a truth this congregation needs to hear. The elders and I have had some rather frank conversations about this church’s finances and the need to discuss biblical giving. Haggai spoke to the people more about their priorities than about giving. This church needs to hear God’s word about priorities and understand that “God’s pleasures come before your pleasures.”
Scripture (Haggai 1:2-11)
The people said the time had not yet come to rebuild the temple. The people weren’t ready to face opposition again, so they were simply sitting on their laurels and doing nothing.
Through Haggai, God asked, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” Scholars aren’t exactly certain what the Hebrew term for “paneled houses” means. The word could mean something like “fancy” and mean that the Hebrews had constructed nice houses for themselves while God’s house lay in ruins. The word could also mean something like “completed with a roof” and mean that the Jews made sure their own houses were completed while they neglected God’s house.
Whatever the word “paneled” means, the Jews cared more about their own pleasures than they cared about the things of God. In fact, Ezra recorded that Cyrus provided money to buy timber to rebuild the temple (Ezra 3:7). Apparently, the Jews took that money and used the funds to build their own houses. God, who then dwelt in the temple, was, in a sense, homeless, while the people took care of their own pleasures.
God told the Israelites to consider their ways, and he then informed them how he had cursed them. The harvest had been a complete failure—Haggai spoke this oracle on August 29, 520 BC. Most of the harvest would have been completed by then; only dates and summer figs would have been left to harvest. The people harvested very little, and they were hungry. They didn’t have much wine, and their clothes would not keep them warm. Their wages wouldn’t go very far.
Again, God told the Israelites to consider their ways. They needed to rebuild the temple so that God could take pleasure in it.
God refused to bless the people because they were more concerned about their houses—their own pleasure—instead of God’s house—God’s pleasure. Because the people were concerned with their own pleasure, God removed those pleasures—he caused a drought that took away their food and their wine.
“God’s pleasures come before your pleasures.” The people in Judah needed to get their act together and put God’s temple in front of their own desires. Maybe—just maybe—you’re like the Jews and you’ve been putting your own pleasures in front of God and his work. How do you put God’s pleasures in front of your own? Well, what if you did exactly what God commanded the Israelites to do?
God told the Israelites to think long and hard about their own pleasures; “Consider your ways,” he told them. God then told them exactly how they put their pleasures in front of his—they were living in “paneled houses” while his house lay in ruins.
You must consider your ways. Do you put your pleasures in front of God? Understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure. The Israelites didn’t sin by living in paneled houses; they sinned by constructing their paneled houses to the detriment of God’s work. God’s house was in ruins, and the people worried about their own houses.
God must be supreme in your life. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33). God, not pleasure, must be your life.
Consider your ways. Do your pleasures interfere with the Lord’s work? Are you so busy using what God himself has given you that you have little, if anything, left to return to him?
God cursed the Israelites for caring more about their pleasure than his—they suffered a drought, their clothes did not keep them warm, and their wages didn’t go very far. Strongly implied in that curse is the promise that God would bless the people if they would bless him. That’s precisely what happened—when the people restarted the temple’s construction, God said, “Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you” (Hag 2:19).
God blesses generous givers. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal 3:10). “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6).
Sometimes people will ask how much they should give—should they give based on their gross or net income or should they have 10% like the Jews? Here’s the real question: “How much do you want God to bless you?” Put God to the test and see just how much he’ll bless you. Gain the profit which can be yours.
God told the Israelites to get busy and to practice these truths, and they did. The people “obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent to him” (Hag 1:12). “They came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Hag 1:14).
Put these truths into practice. Put God’s pleasures over your own and be a generous giver. “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” (1 Cor 16:2). “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).
How much will you sacrifice your pleasure for God’s pleasure? How much will you give to the Lord?
You understand the greatest gift you could ever give to the Lord is your very heart. Do you need to give him your very heart this morning?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.